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Ray Thomas


Ray Thomas Biography

Ray Thomas is, along with Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson, Men at Work's Greg Ham, and Mel Collins and Ian McDonald of King Crimson, one of a handful of well-known flute players in rock music -- the main difference is that he was there first, as a founding member of the Moody Blues in the early '60s, and as a singer and songwriter within the band. Born in Stourport on Severn, he attended the Paget Road Secondary Modern School and seemed destined for a life as an engineer and industrial toolmaker. Music always figured in his life, however, starting before his teens when he joined the Birmingham Youth Choir. He continued singing and later, in tandem with the growing influence of American music in England, took up the harmonica. br /br /Thomas pa**ed through several local groups in his youth, including the Saints & Sinners and the Ramblers, and also for a time played in El Riot & the Rebels, a band whose members included ba**ist John Lodge. In 1962, Thomas and piano player/singer Mike Pinder formed the Krew Cats, who made the by-then-standard pilgrimage to Hamburg, Germany, for work. They split up in 1963 after returning to Birmingham, but the two decided to form a new group on the bustling band scene in the city, and the result was the Moody Blues, originally an R&B-based quintet, somewhat close in spirit to the early Rolling Stones, the Animals, and the Pretty Things. The band enjoyed a monster hit with "Go Now" in 1964, but was unable to follow it up, despite some occasionally brilliant efforts (including "From the Bottom of My Heart"). Thomas subsequently added the flute to his repertoire of musical sk**s, as the group moved beyond pure R&B. When the group's ba**ist, Clint Warwick, and guitarist/singer, Denny Laine, departed, it was Thomas' old El Riot bandmate, John Lodge, who came in as the group's new ba**ist/singer, followed by guitarist/singer Justin Hayward, and a new phase in their history began. br /br /Thomas wasn't as natural a songwriter as Pinder, Lodge, or Hayward, but with Pinder and Hayward's a**istance he emerged as a composer during this period, as the group moved into a much more experimental, psychedelic phase. He provided "Another Morning" and the hauntingly beautiful "Twilight Time" to their growing repertoire of new, more adventurous songs, which were captured on the breakthrough album, Days of Future Pa**ed (1967). On their next album, In Search of the Lost Chord (1967), Thomas delivered the group's defining psychedelic-era anthem, "Legend of a Mind." With the central phrase "Timothy Leary's dead/Oh no, he's outside, looking in" and its elaborate instrumentation (swooping cellos and droning Mellotron sharing the spotlight with Thomas' flute), the song became a central part of the psychedelic era's ambience, and part of the pop culture "soundtrack" almost as much as the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields, Forever" or "Penny Lane"; the fact that it utilized the name of Dr. Timothy Leary, a widely known, once respected academic turned LSD guru, only boosted the group's credibility as a serious psychedelic act within the counterculture of the period. br /br /Thomas' flute was also very prominent in the group's two early psychedelic era hits, "Nights in White Satin" and "Tuesday Afternoon," and his harmony singing could be heard everywhere on their records. Additionally, he and Hayward occasionally generated a memorably beautiful collaborative effort, such as the sublimely gorgeous "Visions of Paradise" from In Search of the Lost Chord. As each member took on a distinct personality in his writing -- Pinder the serious mystic, Hayward the romantic, Lodge the rocker, and Graeme Edge the poet -- Thomas became the band's resident playful mystic, his work characterized by lighthearted songs such as "Dr. Livingston, I Presume," "Dear Diary," and "Nice to Be Here," the latter, a kind of trippy pastoral idyll mixing music and nature images. He also occasionally delivered a serious piece like "Eternity Road" or gentle romantic ballads such as "Our Guessing Game," "And the Tide Rushes In," and "For My Lady." Despite his late start as a composer, Thomas was one of the prominent songwriting voices within the band, and authored more than his share of popular songs in their repertoire. br /br /During the group's hiatus from 1973-1978, Thomas released a pair of solo albums, From Mighty Oaks and Hopes, Wishes, Dreams. These albums, produced on a sometimes grand scale, presented Thomas' singing but didn't feature his playing, in anticipation of the chance to perform this material in concert. His songwriting moved closer to center stage within the group following their reunion in 1978, which was followed soon after by the formal departure of Mike Pinder. Thomas was left as the group's resident mystic and cosmic rocker -- nowhere was he more prominent as a songwriter than on Long Distance Voyager (regarded by many latter-day fans as the band's best post-reunion album), on which a trilogy of his songs, "Painted Smile," "Reflective Smile," and "Veteran Cosmic Rocker," comprised the finale, on record and on-stage for the accompanying tour. br /br /His role in the group receded significantly in the decade after, as his songwriting ebbed and his flute was less in evidence in their music. Thomas' voice remained a constant with the group on-stage, however, and he achieved much greater prominence for a time at the band's orchestra-accompanied concerts -- with a flutist from the orchestra available to play the instrument, he was at last able to sing such numbers as "For My Lady," which he'd never been able to perform live before. Thomas' health declined as the new century began, however; he was unable to join the band on their winter 2003 tour, and was replaced by flutist Norda Mullen. Later that year, after some 40 years' a**ociation with the band, Thomas retired from the Moody Blues. ~ Bruce Eder, All Music Guide


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